The Pittsburgh Steelers is an organization steeped in tradition, especially when it comes to its line backing corps. From the good ole “Dracula in Cleats” Jack Lambert, to Greg “Avoid” Lloyd, to James “Deebo” Harrison; these positions have been filled with pro bowlers, All-Pros and Hall of Famers.
However, due to injuries and age, this position has been in a downward trend since the team’s last Super Bowl appearance.
Over the past two drafts, the Steelers used both of their first-round draft picks to try and solve this issue. First, they drafted Jarvis Jones from Georgia and last year, they drafted Ryan Shazier from Ohio State. Both players have shown glimpses of what they could become but both have been bitten by the injury bug and, as a result, their progress has been slowed.
Jones, who plays outside linebacker, has only played 21-of-32 possible games, and in that span, he recorded three sacks. Shazier, who plays inside linebacker, played in nine games in his rookie season before he succumbed to injury. These injured players plus the unexpected retirement of Jason Worilds, their sack leader from a year ago with 7.5 sacks, has left the team with a lot of questions at the position.
Currently, the Steelers have four outside linebackers on the roster who will be fighting to earn the starting roles. These men are: Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Howard Jones and Shawn Lemon. Both Howard Jones and Lemon are rookies. Jones was signed as an undrafted rookie last year and Lemon has spent the last two seasons playing in the CFL.
Of course when it comes to the inside linebacker positions, the Steelers start with Lawrence Timmons, who made his first Pro Bowl last year. Timmons has played in 94 games since 2009 and has started in 92 of them. As for the other inside linebacker position, there are three players currently on the team who will be competing for that spot. They are Shazier, Vince Williams and Sean Spence. Shazier may be the high draft pick but he was injured last year and when he returned, his play was very inconsistent. Both Williams and Spence saw time last year filling in for Shazier and played well enough to be considered for this year’s spot.
Other than Moats and Timmons, the Steelers really don’t have experience at this position…that’s where Harrison’s straw gets added to the drink. The former defensive player of the year and fan favorite, Harrison has done it all in his career. He’s made big plays, led the defense to championships and has been the ferocious face of the most recent stretch of Steelers success.
Last year, when the team was losing linebackers left and right to injury, the team reached out to Harrison and signed him out of retirement. It took Harrison a little while to get back in game shape but once he got there, he showed glimpses of the Pro Bowl player he used to be. As a result of his solid contributions, Harrison wants to play this year and cannot be ruled out as a possibility to return to the Black and Yellow.
The Steelers could add depth to the position via free agency or the draft, but they do have other positions that need more help, like the secondary.